PROVO — After splitting her time between volleyball and basketball during her BYU career, Jennifer Hamson decided to focus strictly on hoops this season.
It was a good move for Hamson, and for the Cougars, who will play in the West Coast Conference tournament quarterfinals Friday afternoon.
Hamson, a 6-foot-7 senior, earned WCC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors this week after finishing No. 2 in the league in scoring (18.5 ppg) and rebounds (12.1 rpg).
She led the nation in blocked shots with 122 and led the WCC with 19 double-doubles.
Hamson has exceeded coach Jeff Judkins’ expectations this season.
“I thought she would be a double-double player. But I think that what’s she done that’s surprised me is, defensively, she’s so much better,” Judkins said. “Offensively, when they double team her, she’s done a great job of making the pass or a great decision. Last but not least, she’s been durable. She’s played a lot of minutes and taken a lot of hits. She broke her nose and that kind of affected her a little bit.
"But she’s been so consistent. I didn’t know she’d be that. The other three years, she’s had really great games, then games where she’s fallen off. This year, I can only think of two games that she didn’t play well. She’s been really consistent and that’s made a big difference in our team.”
Judkins added that Hamson focusing on one sport has been a big help, particularly when it comes to being in “basketball shape.”
“I think she’s stronger. She’s more balanced. She doesn’t get as tired,” Judkins said. “Her timing is better. She’s automatic at the foul line. Her feel (for the game) has been so much better. She’s had a great year. She’s definitely one of the top inside players I’ve coached — men or women.”
Hamson said she’s enjoyed being a full-time basketball player.
“It’s been really good. I was a little nervous about how it would turn out, but it’s turned out really well so far. I love being a big part of the basketball team and being completely committed to them. It’s helped my game so much.”
Guard Lexi Eaton is happy to have played with Hamson for a full season.
“That’s been a huge difference,” she said. “In years past, it’s been hard for her to get into a rhythm. It takes half the season. She’s had an incredible year. She’s tapped into her potential. She’s gotten the most out of herself this year. A lot of that is due to focusing all of her time (on basketball). It’s been awesome playing with her, and I’m trying to make the most of this year, too.”
VIVA LAS VEGAS: Eaton said she likes playing at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, home of this week’s WCC tournament.
“I love it. It’s so much fun. We get a good turnout with the crowd. The BYU fans support is great everywhere we travel and a lot of them come to the tournament. It’s a great atmosphere.”
Two years ago, as a freshman, Eaton helped the Cougars win the tournament championship. Last season, Eaton sat on the bench during the tournament due to a knee injury, and watched her team fall to Gonzaga in the semifinals.
“There were a lot of bad memories last year, sitting on the bench knowing I couldn’t do anything,” Eaton said. “I guess that’s why I’m super excited for this year because I had to watch last year. This year, I have a part in it.”
RECRUITING IN THE WCC: When BYU joined the WCC a few years ago, some believed the Cougars’ recruiting might be affected negatively.
Not so, Judkins said.
“I think it’s helped, personally. California kids are more interested. The girl we signed from Hawaii, she liked our conference. She has family in Oregon and California. That helps. The exposure we’ve gotten in the West Coast has been better. This league is good. It’s as good as the Mountain West was. The travel is better. It’s more of a positive conference that way. It hasn’t hurt our recruiting at all. We haven’t done as well in Colorado or Texas. But it’s helped us in California.”